CQ: Dems "In as Good a Position as They Could Hope For"

Congressional Quarterly's team of Bob Benenson and Jonathan Allen write the following this week in the publication's cover story:

It isn't always necessary for a party to enjoy robust popularity among voters to win majorities in Congress. Sometimes, it's good enough just to not be the other guy.

Even though the public's "honeymoon" with the congressional Democratic majorities was brief, there is scant evidence that voters are anxious to rush back to the party they so recently dumped.

A variety of big-picture and grass-roots indicators show that the Democrats have a significant edge. Congressional Quarterly's most recent assessments of each of the 34 Senate seats and 435 House seats that will be contested next year -- detailed on the following pages -- show that the Democrats are in as good a position as they could hope for one year from Election Day. At the least, the odds favoring a Democratic hat trick -- White House, House and Senate -- are far better than the odds of a big reversal favoring the Republicans.

This article, which I'd recommend reading in full if you have the time, gets to the core of something I've been talking about for some time -- the Democrats remain more popular than the Republicans, which is, at its heart, what this (and in fact just about every) election is about. Even if the Democrats' numbers aren't good -- and the Democrats' numbers aren't great, though they aren't bad either -- the Democrats are actually in a relatively good position if the Republicans' numbers are worse. Not everyone seems to understand this. Matthew Yglesias wraps up the fundamental misunderstanding of some in Washington quite well.

This from the Politico web team is really absurd. The idea that there can be "bad news" for Democrats but "worse news" for GOP betrays a basic failure to understand the nature of electoral politics, namely that it's a zero-sum competition for power in which only one candidate can win any given race and only one party can hold a majority in any legislative body. If new polls show public dissatisfaction with Democrats but greater dissatisfaction with Republicans, that's good news for Democrats. The only way something could be bad news for both parties would be if you believe that the country is on the verge of an unprecedented wave that's going to sweep a third party into power.

Meanwhile, silly headlines are one thing, but they decided to compound the sin here by highlighting the bad news for dems article even though the publication acknowledges that the news is, in fact, "worse" for Republicans. [I have sized down the photo for space reasons.]

One more thing worth noting: Just because the Democrats are now "in as good a position as they could hope for one year from Election Day" does not mean that they are necessarily going to pick up the trifecta. A lot can happen between now and election day. That all said, stories like this one from CQ are important in that they help push back against the notion pushed by some Beltway insiders (like the one mentioned by Yglesias) that the Democrats are doomed or even in a generally poor position about 11 months out from November 2008.

There's more...

Gallup: Neither Clinton nor Obama Trails Any GOPer

The folks at Zogby International surveyed a non-randomized group of internet users this month and divined that Hillary Clinton can't beat potential Republican nominees. Gallup, using more traditional polling methods, comes up with numbers that look a lot more like virtually all other polling.

R/DClintonObamaGiuliani44/4945/45McCain44/5044/47Romney38/5435/52Thompson40/5338/51

The results for Clinton and Obama are slightly different -- though those differences do not fall outside of the poll's margin of error.

What do these numbers mean? Not a whole heck of a lot this far out from election day. But inasmuch as the media continue to obsess about electability -- and it's not all their fault given the consistency with which some candidates have talked about electability -- these numbers help defuse the sentiment, at least on the Democratic side, that there are inherent differences within the top tier when it comes to being able to defeat potential Republican nominees.

Cook: Dems Pick Up Senate, House Seats; Favored to Win WH

The latest from the Cook Political Report:

Presidential Race: Charlie Cook today gives Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney each a 45 percent chance of winning the GOP nomination, Hillary Clinton an 85 percent chance of winning the Democratic nomination, and Democrats a 60 percent chance of capturing the White House.

The U.S. Senate: Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy believes that Democrats will score a net gain of between three and six Senate seats next November.

The U.S. House: House Editor David Wasserman estimates today that Democrats will pick up between two and eight House seats next year.

The Governors: Senior Editor Jennifer Duffy sees the potential for no net change to a Democratic gain of one seat among next year's 11 Gubernatorial races.

My views don't diverge particularly far from these folks in terms of the race for the White House, the Senate or the Governorships. Perhaps I'd move around something here or there -- I don't think, for instance, that Clinton is quite as prohibitive a favorite (though I think the's indeed likeliest  to be the Democratic nominee at this point), and I might put the Democrats' chances in a general closer to two-thirds than three-fifths -- but overall I'd tend to agree with these sentiments.

But it seems to me that Wasserman is well underestimating the Democrats' chances in the House. To begin, Democrats continue to hold wide leads on the generic congressional ballot question -- close to as large of leads, if not larger, than the ones they held last fall, when they made serious gains. These numbers may in fact tighten, but they have not yet begun to, indicating that for as unpopular as the Congress is as a whole, the public continues to favor the Democrats to the Republicans. What's more, in terms of recruitment and retirements in the House, the map has come to clearly favor the Democrats. Specifically, Republicans have left open seats in some of the most competitive corners of the country and have largely failed to recruit strong candidates, while the Democrats haven't really suffered troublesome retirements but have been able to woo some truly terrific challengers.

Perhaps even more importantly (or at least as important as the other factors mentioned above), the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee holds an insane monetary advantage over its rival, the National Republican Congressional Committee. I'll have a post up hopefully tomorrow on the latest numbers, but the DCCC's cash-on-hand advantage at this juncture is more than $28.1 million over the NRCC, which is still in the red. With numbers like these, the Democrats will be able to be on the offensive all around the country and the Republicans won't be able to manage to do much effective defense, let alone go on offense.

Taking all of these factors into account, I'd venture to say that the Democrats are closer on track to netting a gain of 10-15 seats next fall -- with a greater likelihood that the number of pickups will be over 15 than under 10.

There's more...

More on a Blueing Virginia

Virginia hasn't voted for a Democratic presidential candidate in more than four decades -- but who's to say that it's not on the verge of becoming a blue state (or at least a purple state that is slightly more blue than red)? Take a look, for instance, at the outlook for this fall's legislative contest in the state, courtesy of The Washington Post's Tim Craig.

Virginia Democrats are in a strong position to make substantial gains in the General Assembly in the Nov. 6 election, strategists in both parties say, setting the stage for an expensive battle this fall with Republicans, who are trying to keep control of the Senate and House of Delegates.

With the seats of all 140 delegates and senators up for election, Democrats say they are feeling increasingly confident that they can retake the Senate and pick up three to six seats in the House. Democrats need to gain four seats in the Senate and 11 in the House to grab power from the Republicans for the first time since 1999.

[...]

Democrats are energized by what they say was GOP leaders' slow response to the summer-long storm over abusive-driving fees and by President Bush's unpopularity in the polls. Shifting demographics in several GOP-held House and Senate districts have also improved their chances, Democrats say.

Republicans are hoping that passion over the illegal immigration issue will drive voters to back their candidates. GOP candidates will also make the argument that if the party retains control, it would mean lower taxes, controls on development and more education spending. Once voters "understand and hear that message, our candidates stand tall," said Senate Majority Leader Walter A. Stosch (R-Henrico).

We sure saw how well the immigration issue performed in saving the Republican majorities in the United States Congress last fall -- no wonder Virginia Republicans are banking on anti-immigrant sentiments to help them remain in control of the state legislature. (Just ask J.D. Hayworth and Henry Bonilla how tacking to the right on the issue of immigration did for them, or perhaps Vernon Robinson.)

But Virginia Republicans' problems extend far beyond just the state legislative level (which is certainly problematic given the possibility that a wave in state legislative elections can be an omen for things to come). With the retirement of longtime Republican Senator John Warner and the very real possibility that Mark Warner, the extremely popular former Democratic Governor, will jump in the race for the Senate, it seems that the Democrats may be poised to pick up two Senate seats in the state in as many cycles. This comes on top of the possibility that the Democrats will pick up two congressional seats in the state, as well. What's more, Democrats are talking about seriously contesting Virginia on the presidential level, hoping that 2008 could be the first year since 1964 in which a Democrat has carried the state.

So suffice it to say that we may be seeing a very different Virginia than the one many had become accustomed to.

There's more...

How Much is Florida in Play for the Dems in 2008?

I have generally been of the mindset that while it would be nice for the 2008 Democratic presidential nominee to carry Florida, such a statewide victory would more likely represent electoral votes 271 through 297 than electoral vote number 270. In other words, if the Democratic nominee takes Florida it means that he or she has already won the election, so Florida would just be gravy.

This sentiment derived from a number of factors. First, it would have taken John Kerry fewer votes in Ohio in 2004 -- or even spread across Colorado, New Mexico and Nevada -- in order to secure sufficient support in the electoral college than it would have for him to have won Florida. What's more, though the Democrats did fairly well in federal elections in Florida in 2006, holding a potentially vulnerable Senate seat and picking up two seats in the House (which probably should have been three had it not been for another poorly designed ballot and other such electoral miscues), the gubernatorial contest in the state never really got engaged, with the Republican nominee winning by seven points in an open seat race.

But some interesting trends in the state have had me wondering: Perhaps I've been wrong about Florida. Perhaps the state is more in play for the Democrats than I had previously believed.

Back in February I began thinking similar thoughts following the release of polling showing increased strength in Florida for some of the potential Democratic presidential nominees. Now, new Rasmussen Reports polling has me wondering once again. Take a look (500 LVs in each state; conducted 8/8, except for Florida, conducted 8/9):

COFLNHOH
Giuliani50444440
Clinton40494443
McCain44383541
Clinton41524545
Romney44354036
Clinton43574548
Thompson45403643
Clinton45534744
Ave. GOP45.7539.2538.7540.00
Ave. HIL42.2552.7545.2545.00

[Caveats first. I'm on the record as not being the greatest fan of Rasmussen Reports, but at least this set of polls conducted using the same methodology almost in the exactly same timeframe (even if it's just one-day polling) across four states allows for a reasonable comparison between probable swing states around the country. What's more, I'm going to do a little bit of extrapolating from these numbers that goes beyond just Hillary Clinton, who is the only Democrat polled here. That is to say that although Clinton may have attributes that make her relatively stronger in Florida as compared to other states than other potential Democratic nominees, I'm going to leave that possibility aside given that this is the data I have to work with for the moment.]

These surveys seem to indicate that Florida is a particularly ripe target for the Democrats in 2008. Not only does Clinton hold a sizable lead over the four leading Republican contenders, but she also holds a larger lead in Florida than she does in the other swing states polled, including New Hampshire, which John Kerry won in 2004. To be clear, this news comes as a rather large surprise to me given a number of the facts about the state mentioned way up at the top of this post. And as a result, though I'd like to see more numbers confirming this trend, it might be that Florida won't just be gravy for the Democratic nominee, which could make it impossible (yes, effectively impossible) for the Republican nominee to garner the 270 electoral votes necessary to win a trip to the White House.

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